By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Thursday, March 19 Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) signed the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act, SB45, into law.
ALGOP Chairwoman Terry Lathan made a written statement, “Alabama is a state that has a long history of educational challenges. As a former public school teacher, I applaud the creative pathway that our Republican legislature is willing to travel in our quest to raise the educational bar in Alabama. While there is no quick fix, the establishment of public charter schools in our state will allow our students, parents and teachers the opportunity to make a true difference in the education and future of Alabama.”
The bill was introduced in the Alabama State Senate by Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R from Anniston). Senate President Marsh said in a statement on Wednesday, “I want to thank all those who were involved in the process of passing this legislation. I am glad we were able to bring so many to the table to give Alabama parents the best educational options possible.”
The bill was carried in the Alabama House by Representatives by Terri Collins (R from Decatur). Rep. Collins is the Chair of the House Education Policy Committee. Rep. Collins said in a statement, “Every child in Alabama deserves a high quality education, and the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act empowers parents with another choice for their child’s education. It is time for Alabama to join the other 42 states that provide this innovative option to educators, parents, and students.”
Chair Lathan stated, “The Alabama Republican Party continues to be supportive of school choice and is proud to see our legislators and governor come together to pass this important measure.”
According to a fact sheet provided by the Alabama Republican Party about the bill: Charter schools are public schools that must accept every student who wants to attend. They cannot have enrollment requirements and cannot charge tuition.
If a public charter school does not meet its contract standards, or is a low-performing school for three years in a row, it is automatically closed. Public charter schools are public schools and will receive the same amount of money that traditional district schools receive.
The per pupil allocation for each Alabama student will follow the child whether they attend their traditional neighborhood school or a charter school of their parents’ choice. The School Choice and Student Opportunity Act protects school systems by only allowing up to 10 mills of local money to follow a child to a public charter school. The remainder stays with the local school system.
Local school boards can reject any request to convert an existing school to a charter school. They also have the first say when someone proposes bringing a new public charter school to their community. A public charter school can appeal that denial to the Alabama Public Charter School Commission.
Public charter schools must accept every student who wants to attend. If more students enroll than there are seats available, schools must conduct a public random selection process to fill seats.
The Republican super-majority views charter schools as part of a broad toolkit of strategies to address problems in Alabama’s education system. Authorizers can close low-performing charter schools.
Only non-profits can hold a charter. If the nonprofit chooses to contract with a public charter school operator to manage the school, that contract (and its terms) must be laid out in the public charter school’s application.
Public charter schools are open enrollment public schools and are required to meet the needs of all students including special education students who wish to attend.
Public charters allow teachers to tailor instruction and strategies to meet the needs of their students. Whether or not hire only certified teachers is a decision that is left to the public charter school.
Public charter schools do not have to offer competitive athletics, but if they do, they must register with the Alabama High School Athletics Association.
Charter schools can utilize whichever curriculum they choose, but are held to a higher level of performance.
Public charter schools receive transportation funding in the same manner it is paid to school systems. Public charter schools can decide whether or not they provide transportation services. That decision however must be out laid out in their application.
The purpose of the Alabama Public Charter School Commission is to prevent strong public charter school applications from being denied for political reasons.